No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction

by Ellen Painter Dollar

(Westminster John Knox, $15, 200 pages)

Who is this author?

Ellen Painter Dollar lives in West Hartford and has three children. She also has an inherited condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly known as “brittle bone disease,” which causes bones to break easily, a disabling and painful problem. She writes about faith, disability, reproductive ethics, family and being a mother, and how all of these are interwoven in her life. Painter Dollar also blogs about these issues and in addition to her book, has contributed to such publications as Christianity Today, the American Medical Association, the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation, the Hartford Courant,and the Episcopal Cafe. You can read more about her in her blog at and

What is this book about?

After her first child inherited brittle bone disease, Painter Dollar and her husband began considering using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to ensure their next child would not have it as well, a decision that involved squaring their wish to spare a child from suffering with issues of medical ethics and their deep Christian faith. PGD can test for the condition in the embryo, but the author worried that embracing this technology might be like giving consent to bearing perfect “designer babies” and that destroying an afflicted embryo was contrary to their anti-abortion views. The book examines such technologies as in vitro fertilization and PGD, being careful to present the many thorny arguments for and against their use.

Why you’ll like it:

Painter Dollar skillfully interweaves her compelling personal story and spiritual beliefs with easy to comprehend explanations of reproductive technologies, thus illuminating this very complex and often troubling intersection of cutting-edge research and age-old ethical issues. The book is even-handed and never preachy, although her deep faith is always an integral part of her story. Few who have not suffered with inherited diseases or infertility know much about these conditions and the techniques that may resolve them. This book goes a long way to enlightening all readers about these situations and can serve as a guide now, and also as science continues to find more techniques that will impact reproduction and the fight against genetic diseases.

What others are saying:

Says Publishers Weekly: Part memoir, part theological treatise, this book offers a refreshingly candid and nuanced grappling with assisted reproduction that will be valuable to many Christians wishing to engage with the ethical questions raised by this new medical technology. Dollar, who suffers from a genetic disorder better known as “brittle bone disease,” wanted to spare her offspring the suffering she endured by testing her fertilized eggs for the mutation before they were implanted in her uterus. (There was a 50% chance her child would inherit the mutation.) Opposed to abortion, she and her husband reasoned that embryos in a petri dish are not the same as a fetus growing inside a womb. Nevertheless, she wondered if such technological advances might not hasten a world of designer babies selected to minimize the chances of pain, sickness, and disability. With an estimated four million babies conceived through in-vitro fertilization and rapid advances in genetic testing, such questions have never been more urgent, yet they are often left to couples to sort through on their own. This well-written, insightful account should serve as a resource to anyone who ponders the intersection of medicine, ethics, and parenthood.”

“No Easy Choice” is a painfully wise book about the pain of having children whose life will be filled with pain. It is also a book of hope because its author never tries to say more than can be said about why some children are so born. This is a must read, not only for those considering prenatal genetic diagnosis and intervention, but for all concerned with the ethics of PGD. It’s a terrific book,” says Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School, and author of “God, Medicine, and the Problem of Suffering.”

“This book is a welcome antidote to dry academic reflection on the ethics of PGD. The author walks us through her difficult decisions about using reproductive technologies in the face of having her children inherit a painful medical condition, cutting through the certitudes of those who do not have to face these choices themselves. Those pondering the use of reproductive technologies and those concerned with the ethics of these technologies can both benefit from reading this book,” says John H. Evans, Professor of Sociology, University of California, San Diego, and author of “Contested Reproduction: Genetic Technologies, Religion and Public Debate.”

When is it available?

The book is on the shelves now at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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